Beth came home later than expected from her yoga class on Saturday afternoon. I was at the computer and as I glanced up at her walking in the front door, I saw she was waving two pieces of stiff paper with silver borders. Then I remembered. She’d mentioned she was going to check her email while she was out to see if her office would have inauguration tickets to issue, and if they had them, she’d go pick them up. Somehow I’d forgotten. And now our inauguration dilemma was even more complicated because there are four of us and there were only two tickets.
The tickets were for the silver area. Still not close enough to really see much, but close enough to see the Capitol building and possibly even make out some tiny people moving around in front of it.
We were all in the study. Beth was staring at the tickets. I kept looking back and forth between the tickets and the kids, who were absorbed in a game on the other computer. I’d wanted us to experience the inauguration all together, whether it was out on the mall, or at home in front of the television.
“I feel like a won a golden ticket,” Beth said. I knew what she meant. It might be too good to pass up. After all, Charlie Bucket couldn’t take his whole family into the chocolate factory, but he still went. We might have to split up. But how? Later that afternoon, away from the kids, we conferred. Should we try to find a babysitter and go ourselves or should one adult take one kid? Beth said she wanted to offer the tickets to her mother and aunt first but that she didn’t think they’d want to brave the crowds, especially if it meant traveling in inclement weather. A mix of snow and rain was predicted for Sunday and Monday. She was right. Her mom declined. Beth’s next proposal was for her to take Noah. I was disappointed at the thought of staying behind, but it made sense. Noah’s old enough to remember this historic occasion; June is probably not. And the tickets did come from her office, a reward for the work her union did campaigning for Obama.
In the back of my mind I was trying on the idea of taking June to the unticketed area myself, but the logistics of traveling down to the mall with a nap-deprived toddler among crowds numbering in the millions on a cold winter day without another adult to help seemed daunting. Just that morning I’d taken June for a walk and she’d gotten too tired and cold too far from home. I had to carry her and then put her down and coax her to walk a little on her own then pick her up and carry her again as she sobbed for twenty-five minutes. It was miserable. I imagined doing that for hours or trying to soothe her on a windy Metro platform as train after packed train passed us by. Maybe watching it on television wouldn’t be too bad.
As our plans shifted, I found myself re-evaluating my position on Sunday afternoon’s pre-inaugural concert. Earlier Beth seemed to want to go (she’s a big Springsteen fan), but I’d been lukewarm at best because I didn’t want to drag everyone out into the madness twice. But now that it looked likely that June and I would stay home on Tuesday, part of me wanted to go down to the mall and be part of the festivities, if not the main event. But in the end, we decided against it. We were swayed, in part, by the weather forecasts of temperatures in the high thirties and rain. (As it turned out, the rain never materialized.) I was a little annoyed that the concert was not broadcast live on NPR. Concerts on the mall are always on NPR. I maybe have grumbled a little about federal property and our taxes dollars and so on. We don’t have cable, so I watched part of the rebroadcast online Sunday evening. I missed Springsteen and Pete Seeger singing together, but I did get to see James Taylor and Stevie Wonder (and Michelle Obama dancing to Stevie Wonder). So, I’m curious– does anyone else think that John Mellencamp singing “Pink Houses” was a tad off-message? (http://www.lyricsfreak.com/j/john+mellencamp/pink+houses_20074447.html).
We decided that one thing we would definitely do this long weekend was to participate in the creek clean-up Noah’s school was sponsoring on Monday in conjunction with the National Day of Service. We could walk there and back. There were no logistical hurdles and it was something community-minded we could do to mark these extraordinary few days.
“I don’t want to pick up trash,” Noah announced at breakfast on Monday. Beth said the spirit of Martin Luther King wanted him to. He looked at her skeptically, and then she said President-elect Obama wanted him to. He didn’t answer, but at 9:45 we got bundled up and walked down to the creek as snowflakes drifted lazily in the air around us. I thought how scenic the inauguration would be if the snow stuck. Much to Beth’s consternation, we’ve gotten to mid-January with no snow, other than the occasional tease of a flurry. It didn’t even snow while we were in Wheeling for Christmas.
“Let’s sing the snowflake song,” I said to June and to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” I sang:
Snowflakes, snowflakes all around
Snowflakes, snowflakes on the ground
Snowflakes, snowflakes in the air
Snowflakes, snowflakes everywhere
Snowflakes, snowflakes all around
Snowflakes, snowflakes on the ground
We learned this song at the library Circle Time recently. For good measure, I also sang “I’m a Great Big Snowman” (to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot”) but the snow was not encouraged and it started to taper off.
At the playground we collected garbage bags and gloves and were assigned the territory between the two footbridges closest to the playground on both sides of the creek. We scoured the underbrush for trash. June kept dashing ahead. Noah progressed more slowly and was most interested in fetching the pieces of trash that required him to scramble down the steep banks of the creek or lean over the water gurgling under a thin layer of ice.
“Litterbugs smoke a lot,” I observed, dropping an empty pack of cigarettes into the bag.
“And drink, too,” Beth said. She’d found a nest of at least a dozen empty beer bottles.
There were sadder finds as well. When I found the razor and white athletic socks crumpled into a frozen ball I wondered, should I take these? Is someone coming back to use them again? I threw them into the bag, but when I found a futon high up on the ridge, I left it there and didn’t report it to anyone.
We watched as bigger kids walked out onto the thicker parts of the ice, nonchalant about the risks, and as two men triumphantly freed a shopping cart and a bike from the ice and dragged them up to the path. Someone observed that the Reverend King could have chosen a warmer time of year to be born.
Finally, we called it quits, sampled the free doughnuts, played for a while on the playground and near the edges of the frozen creek and went home. As we walked home, Noah said he didn’t want to go to the inauguration. I told him this would one of the most important things that has happened since he was born. He looked surprised and might have begun to reconsider at that moment. Beth said she saw him reading articles in the Post about the inauguration later that day.
About a block from home, June, who had gotten chilled after an hour and a half outside, started to wail. Inside I took off her mittens and rubbed her icy hands. “Still thinking of going to the inauguration?” Beth asked.
The next morning it was January 20th. When those “01-20-09: Bush’s Last Day in Office” bumper stickers started appearing on cars all over Takoma Park the date was so far in the future (two or maybe even three years) I found them more depressing than inspiring, And then the date got a little closer and then we elected a Democrat and then it was a lot closer and suddenly it was here. It was real day, cold and sunny.
It started earlier than usual for us. Beth and Noah were both up and about by 6:10. He was unusually co-operative about putting on warm clothes—two pairs of socks, snowpants, a t-shirt and wool sweater, coat and gloves. They gathered up the essentials—snacks, camera, phone, SmarTrip cards and hand-warmers and they were out the door at 7:00 at the dot. At 7:01 they were back. They forgot the tickets! Tears stung my eyes as the door slammed shut the second time. I really wished I could have gone.
As I folded laundry, I listened to coverage on NPR. Over and over again the reporters announced that it was cold and crowded on the mall and that everyone was in a good mood. Beth sent me an email at 8:56 a.m., letting me know they had arrived and were waiting to go through security. That’s all the message said, but if the radio is to be believed I’m pretty sure they were cold and surrounded by a lot of other people and in good spirits*. I started getting June and myself into our coats.
“Where are we going?” June wanted to know. “To Savory and the library,” I told her. It’s our normal Tuesday morning routine. Somehow it seemed wrong to me to do what we always do today, but on the other hand, staying home seemed worse, so we went out.
Circle Time was deserted, but Ms. Karen read a picture book of simple quotes from Obama speeches called Yes, We Can and led everyone in a circle dance to a song about Martin Luther King (http://www.amazon.com/Martin-Luther-King/dp/B0010VLK20). On our way home, a young woman with an Indian or Pakistani accent approached me wanting to know if the buses were running today. It was 11:15 and she wanted to go to the inauguration. I told her as gently as I could that she was too late and if she had nowhere close to go and didn’t want to miss it completely, she could go to the community center just across the street where it was being shown on television. She didn’t listen and said she’d try to make it down to the mall. I can’t help but wonder what happened to her.
June and I got home around 11:35 and I switched on the television. I went to the kitchen to get us some lunch and I heard June cry out, “I see Bwack Obama!” June loves to spy Obama, and these days his image can be seen everywhere from t-shirts to commemorative cookies at the supermarket. After the first thrill of seeing him, though, she became bored. “I don’t wike Bwack Obama movie,” she complained. “It’s a gwownup movie.” She wanted to know if we had returned Mr. Rogers (her usual after-library fare) to the video store or the library. (She’s fuzzy on the difference between movies we rent or borrow and broadcast television.) Eventually she calmed down. When Aretha Franklin began to sing, she said in an authoritative tone of voice, “That’s not Bwack Obama.” (The size of Aretha’s hat was also cause for commentary.)
As Chief Justice Roberts was administering the oath of office, I heard our front gate slam. It must have been our diaper delivery person, an African-American man. I was sorry he was missing the swearing-in and I jumped up to invite him in to watch it, but I was too late. The bag of clean diapers was there, but he was gone. The slam must have been his departure and not his arrival.
As President Obama began his inaugural address, June asked me, “Is it Barack Obama’s turn? Is he talking to us?”
“Yes,” I told her. He’s talking to us. It’s his turn. May he use it wisely and well.
*Stay tuned for a special guest blog by Beth and Noah on their big inauguration adventure!